Muthu Annamalai Venkatachalam
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Improving Language Accessibility in Programming

Improving Language Accessibility in Programming

Muthu Annamalai Venkatachalam
·Mar 7, 2022·

3 min read

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The English language continues to dominate science and technology. Nearly all documentation and the majority of programming languages are written in English. Stack Overflow and many free educational software programs use it as their official language. End users do not perceive translations as being of the same quality as the original. Prof. Phillip J. Guo found this to be true in a survey he conducted. In addition to communication barriers, the survey found that usage of colloquial language greatly affects a person's ability to comprehend concepts. Among the native French respondents, "The technical terminology associated with programming can be difficult to assimilate, particularly in the middle of explanations if you do not know the equivalent word in your native language." A single technical term can sometimes obscure the meaning of an entire phrase.

The subject-verb-object relationship is another problem for most non-native speakers. Many complex computer programming languages include terms like if, until, unless, etc. that are often difficult to translate for non-native speakers since they do not have a literal translation. Additionally, non-native speakers can have difficulty understanding the difference between objects, classes, and instances, all of which are core coding concepts. This also results in issues with colloquial variable naming conventions. Based on Guo's survey, "I have noticed users struggle with naming variables. They tend to use meaningless (or worse) names like "table". Problems occur when natural human language meets the code...

In December 2020, progress had begun to make programming education more widespread and accessible. The company ‘Techie Tessie’ was established, with a focus of helping everyone, regardless of language or background, learn about programming. Through multilingual tutorials, 24/7 social media support, and an incredible team, people all over the world are now learning how to program quickly and for free. By producing tutorials in English, Hindi, and Spanish, Techie Tessie are tearing down the language barriers which often hinder education.

Following many studies which have been conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear there is still a lot of work to do. With remote, global tech teams becoming the norm, it is vital that language accessibility be at the fore-front of corporate agendas. By providing programming materials in a variety of languages, it will allow for more productive and diverse teams.

Next time you see a non-native speaker struggling to understand a programming concept, take a moment. Try explaining it in their first language, there are countless free translation apps out there for you to use. Let’s make language a tool, not a barrier.

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